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2012 Top-Rated Nonprofit

National Outdoor Leadership School

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Environment, Environmental Education

Mission: To be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.

Results: With courses ranging from 10 days to a full academic year, we attract highly motivated students who want to learn how to lead. NOLS graduates have everything needed to lead others in the backcountry, as well as the leadership ability to excel at work or in the classroom. We expect a great deal of our students. NOLS courses are demanding, because we believe people thrive when challenged. Our hands-on, learn-by-doing approach means our graduates get the skills they need to be competent, responsible wilderness travelers long after their course.

Target demographics: NOLS serves students from age 14 to over 70.

Geographic areas served: NOLS graduates are from all 50 states and 42 countries.

Programs: We believe positive, ethical leaders change the world. Based on this belief, NOLS has, over the last 46 years, become the leader in wilderness education. Founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, NOLS takes students of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions and teaches them technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics. What NOLS teaches cannot be learned in a traditional classroom or on a city street. It takes practice to learn outdoor skills and time to develop leadership. The backcountry provides the ideal setting for this unique, experiential education—NOLS classrooms are some of the world’s wildest and most awe-inspiring locations. We believe living in untouched places like our classrooms will teach students responsibility for all that surrounds us.

Community Stories

2 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters


Rating: 5

For more than 15 years, I have carried the leadership and technical skills training that I gained during my NOLS semester course into my personal life and professional career. Since then, I have gone on to take many more courses with the school, each time adding to my back country skills and improving my expedition behavior. And most importantly, each NOLS experience introduces students to a team of world -class outdoor educators.


Rating: 5

Many years ago, I first heard of NOLS through a fellow Boy Scout leader, and filed the thought for a time when my daughters were older. A decade later my 15 year old daughter was having some problems at school that seemed to arise from low self confidence. I recalled my friend's comment about NOLS and after some encouragement and investigation my daughter decided to take a NOLS 30 day adventure course in Wyoming. The results were nothing less than amazing. My daughter departed as a self-centered child and returned as a self-confident young woman. Her love of the outdoors and the skills she learned from NOLS combined to become a life changing experience for her. After college, the same daughter went on a NOLS program to Tanzania. Through the Tanzania program reinforced the her self-confidence and outdoors skills and provided her a new and different perception of the world and strongly influenced her decision to get a master's degree in environmental science. From the time when I first dropped off my daughter in Lander, more than 15 years ago, I have wanted to personally participate in a NOLS program. The opportunity and my work load finally aligned and I was able to participate in a NOLS alumni program in Wyoming this past Summer. The time outdoors and the camaraderie were all that I had hoped for. I had a great time and heartily recommend NOLS programs for people of all ages.